01/16/2016 11:51PM

American Pharoah named Horse of the Year; Baffert, Zayat honored

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
American Pharoah was named Horse of the Year and top 3-year-old male of 2015 at the Eclipse Awards dinner Saturday night.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – It’s unanimous! American Pharoah was the best horse in the country last year.

American Pharoah received all 261 votes for both Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male when the Eclipse Award winners for the 2015 racing season were announced Saturday night at a gala dinner at Gulfstream Park.

In the 45-year history of the Eclipse Awards, American Pharoah became only the second horse, joining John Henry in 1981, to get every first-place vote for Horse of the Year.

American Pharoah’s dominance propelled his trainer, Bob Baffert, and owner and breeder, the Zayat Stables of Ahmed Zayat, to Eclipse Awards in their respective divisions, too. The only member of American Pharoah’s team who did not share in the largesse was jockey Victor Espinoza, who lost out to Javier Castellano, who had a record-setting year for purse earnings.

American Pharoah last year became only the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown and the first since Affirmed in 1978. On Saturday night, American Pharoah further tied together that 37-year gap by becoming the first horse since Affirmed to win divisional Eclipse Awards at ages 2 and 3 along with Horse of the Year at 3.

In addition to his victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, American Pharoah ended his racing career with an overpowering victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He won three other stakes races last year – the Haskell, Arkansas Derby, and Rebel – with his lone loss a second-place finish in the Travers.

Other equine divisional winners announced Saturday night were Nyquist (2-year-old male), Songbird (2-year-old filly), Stellar Wind (3-year-old filly), Honor Code (older dirt male), Beholder (older dirt female), Runhappy (male sprinter), La Verdad (female sprinter), Big Blue Kitten (male turf), Tepin (female turf), and Dawalan (steeplechase horse).

:: Check out all of Saturday night's Eclipse Award winners.

Beholder, age 5 last year, became a three-time champion, having also won Eclipse Awards at ages 2 and 3.

Tyler Gaffalione was named champion apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by employees of Daily Racing Form, members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, whose bloc includes employees of Equibase and most of the nation’s racing secretaries. There were 281 eligible voters, with 261 returning ballots.

All the votes are pooled, and the horse or person receiving the most first-place votes in their respective division is declared the winner.

Zayat bred American Pharoah by sending his mare Littleprincessemma to his stallion Pioneerof the Nile. He bought the colt back as a yearling after putting him up for sale at Saratoga. So, by racing a homebred, Zayat was eligible to have American Pharoah represent him as both owner and breeder, and Zayat handily won in both divisions – with Ken and Sarah Ramsey finishing a distant second in both – by a 220-26 vote as owner and a 190-39 vote as breeder.

The Ramseys did not come away empty-handed, though, as their Big Blue Kitten won the male turf title with 134 votes, downing fellow finalists Golden Horn (63 votes) and The Pizza Man (41).

Baffert received 200 votes to easily defeat Todd Pletcher (44) and Chad Brown (12) for champion trainer. It was Baffert’s fourth title but his first since three straight from 1997-99. Baffert also became the first trainer to have two Eclipse Award-winning males at ages 2 and 3, with American Pharoah following Lookin At Lucky.

Castellano won the jockey title by 184 votes to 70 for Espinoza. It was his third straight title.

The closest division was female sprinter, where La Verdad beat Wavell Avenue by a mere eight votes, 98-90, with Lady Shipman a distant third with 41. Five other horses received first-place votes in that category. DRF went for Wavell Avenue, 27-25, over La Verdad. The NTRA deadlocked at 14-14 between Wavell Avenue and La Verdad. The NTWAB, the bloc with the most voters, had it 59-49 for La Verdad over Wavell Avenue.

Champion 3-year-old filly, considered one of the more difficult categories this year, produced a surprisingly comfortable winner in Stellar Wind, who got 108 votes, more than twice her closest competitors, I’m a Chatterbox (47) and Found (46). Four other horses received first-place votes.

One division whose result was a bit closer than expected was older dirt male, in which Honor Code defeated Liam’s Map, 126-95, with four other horses receiving votes. Interestingly, the NTRA preferred Liam’s Map, 17-14, over Honor Code. DRF went for Honor Code over Liam’s Map, 39-28, and the NTWAB had it 73-50 in favor of Honor Code.

Many of the divisions were runaways, as expected.

The undefeated Songbird came up one vote shy of being a unanimous choice for champion 2-year-old filly. One voter from the NTWAB opted for Catch a Glimpse.

Beholder received 256 votes for champion older dirt female to beat Stopchargingmaria (4) and Sheer Drama (1).

Nyquist got 255 votes for champion 2-year-old male, with Mohaymen a distant second with 3.

The male sprint champ, Runhappy, also received 255 votes, with four other horses splitting the remaining six votes.

Tepin got 211 votes for champion female turf horse, easily outpolling runner-up Found, who had 38.

Dawalan won the steeplechase title, 165-47, over runner-up Bob Le Beau.

Gaffalione beat second-place Eric Cancel, 149-63, to win the apprentice jockey title.

Also Saturday night, Leonard Lavin was honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit, and John O’Neil, the winner of last year’s DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, was recognized as the horseplayer of the year.

In addition, previously announced awards for media winners were presented to DRF’s Mary Simon for multimedia, Jennie Rees and Tim Sullivan for writing, NBC for national television, Brad and John Hennegan for television feature, and Scott Serio and Michael Clevenger for photography.